Survivor, a short poem by Roger McGough:
I think about dying.
About disease, starvation,
violence, terrorism, war,
the end of the world.
keep my mind off things.
That poem always makes me smile. I used to have it on my office wall for the times when I thought I was taking myself too seriously. I was reminded of it after last week’s rather heavy blogposts about physiotherapy and sex. So I thought I’d post about something a bit more lighthearted today. In the spirit of Roger McGough then, this post is about video violence, simulated injury and death.
For some time now I’ve been pondering why it is that there are no physiotherapists working – and I mean actually employed – in first-person video games: games like Call of Duty, Halo, Far Cry or Half life? (If you have absolutely no idea about these games, you can watch video recordings of game play on Youtube – this link is of a live player showing you their game play, for example – but they basically involve gamers taking on the persona of an in-game character and shooting their way through billions of challenges until everyone else is dead or they’ve evolved so much that they’ve become bored by their own invincibility.)
Let me be clear, I don’t play these games, but I know enough about them to understand the basic idea. Your player develops skills throughout the game based on live challenges. The games are meant to be so immersive that you almost believe you are in the fantasy world, and having seen a couple of these games played, you have to admire the skill of the designers because the worlds are impressively realistic. But here’s the rub…
The games are designed to be a simulation of real life. For instance, the games ‘physics’ have to be realistic. They have to feel real, so that when your character runs, it has to look and feel like you are running. Water has to flow like water and rocks have to look heavy to lift. Things you throw have to fly right and bigger guns have to sound more impressive than pea-shooters. They have to be a simulation of the real world, and the lengths that game designers go to to simulate these in-game physical properties of matter border on the obsessive. And yet, at the same time, the games all perpetuate the most ridiculous deception, and everybody who plays knows it and accepts it.
Everything is real until the point comes where the player gets injured, or worst still, dies. Then the game allows the player to magically regenerate. They may have to find a medical chest or suffer the inconvenience of a slight game delay, but the penalty is little more than waiting a few seconds or a slight detour on their journey.
This seems a bit odd to me. On the one hand, gamers demand that the gameplay is as authentic and immersive as possible, right up to the point where they get injured. Then they just want a convenient quick fix and a sloppy unreal world is allowed to intervene so that their gameplay is not disrupted.
If a player jumps out of a 2nd floor window or has their arm chopped off in a fight with a bulbasaur (you can tell I’m not a pro gamer!), shouldn’t they have to stand down from the game for two months while they recover? Shouldn’t they have to pay for their surgery and rehabilitation? Shouldn’t a physiotherapists be employed somewhere in the game to make sure they followed the right programme of exercises and didn’t lose their aerobic fitness? And what happens if their surgical repair gets infected?
Why are there no physiotherapists working inside video games like Call of Duty?
There are, of course, a few quite serious philosophical questions underlying this problem (not least how gamers are experiencing their embodied selves in virtual space). But more importantly, for us at least, is a question about the ways physiotherapy may change in the future if people who develop very different view of the limits of their bodies. Virtual reality games are only one expression of the many possibilities promised by future genetic therapies, robotics, reconstructive surgeries and pharmacological interventions. It’s not inconceivable that we are on the threshold of radically new ‘cyborg’ bodies where new technologies may make a lot of our present modes of rehabilitation obsolete.
So why couldn’t a physiotherapist make a living in an entirely virtual world? Do we actually need a physical body in front of us to practice? Clearly not. There are businesses being set up already where the therapist is remote to the client/patient. So why not online? Do we really still believe that embodied reality is corporeal?